Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Leo Franz talks about Mimi and the Magic Pea

Today, my guest is newly published author, Leo Franz.  His book, Mimi and the Magic Pea, has appeal both for children and adults. This is a family affair with Leo's daughter, Sofphie Franz, providing the wonderful illustrations.

AUTHOR: Leo Franz
BOOK TITLE: Mimi and the Magic Pea
BUY LINK: mimiandthemagicpea.com, or Amazon.com

Please tell me how long you've been writing, and why you decided to become a writer.
Huddled in the attic fort of my best friend’s house, three fourth graders held their first meeting of the "writers’ club". That first meeting was mostly about telling ghost stories to each other. A series, "The Adventures of Bogard Flea", emerged as my first attempt at writing an entertaining fantasy. These fables were eventually read in class, and my fifth grade teacher declared that I was destined to be a famous author. The seed was planted.
Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?
I’m retired and involved with a lot of different enterprises. One of those is writing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t concern myself with writing— I might even be thinking about it when I’m playing tennis or riding my bicycle. Does that make me full time? Or does it relegate me to the part-time status? Whatever, I think that writing is fully a part of my life. Actually taking pen to paper is more occasional, and tends to be either very brief (a thought or an observation) or a consuming binge that might supplant the awareness of my need for food or sleep.
What influences your writing?
Personal experiences, observed experiences, God, nature, current events, what I’ve read, what I’ve dreamt, entertainment, a conversation, an argument, persons, places, an innate drive to create..... so many things. As I am now published (Mimi and the Magic Pea), I am receiving some feedback and have had time to ruminate on influences for this particular project. A list of these influences includes: my childhood in northeast Portland; my own children’s experiences; my parenting experiences; a real tragedy and its social implications; people I’ve become acquainted with throughout my life; a gift from my children; time; and my interaction with others (editors, family and friends). The most surprising feedback, and most interesting to me, came from a number of people that made reference to To Kill a Mockingbird as a book that Mimi and the Magic Pea brought to mind for them. It is one of my favorite novels, so I guess that I shouldn’t be so surprised that its influence insinuated itself into my book. Other more obvious comparisons (thereby influences) have been the works of Beverly Cleary and C.S. Lewis; Harry Potter is alluded to now and again by some readers of Mimi.  One reviewer likened the story to Alice in Wonderland.
Is this your first published work? What other types of writing have you done?
I’ve been published before, but Mimi and the Magic Pea is my first novel. Graduate school and my job as the Director of the Multnomah Arts Center caused me to write prolifically over the years. During a ten year period, after receipt of my Masters in Public Administration, I wrote three days a week for fun (and the amusement of my family). On one occasion I tried (and succeeded) having one of these "fun" pieces published. Even before that, I knew that I wanted to begin writing a novel when I retired.
Why did you choose to write a children's story?
An underlying motive for writing Mimi and the Magic Pea was simply to celebrate the creative spirit of children. The book does this and displays some other child attributes: nobility; friendship; loyalty; and self-sacrifice. The darker side of growing up is also here to look at: meanness; self-centeredness; vulnerability to bad influences; rebellion; and downright poor judgement and decision making.

It was most natural for me to write about children. Those ten years of writing for fun were attempts to entertain my own children. I believe that Mimi and the Magic Pea is a children’s story like To Kill a Mockingbird (that comparison again). There are many talking points for parents and their kids in this adventure.
What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?
I actually am considering writing a book about this process. Suffice it to say that, of the multiplicity of ideas that came together for this particular book there are four driving points: 1) I had already created a body of work about my childhood, growing up in northeast Portland. 2) There was a drive-by murder in Portland (Eddie Morgan’s) that affected me greatly. 3) My children gave me an illustrated book, entitled Mimi and the Magic Pea, that they had created for my birthday. 4) In my childhood and again as a parent, questions of family ties to the city versus the appeal of retreating to the countryside were weighed. I wanted to write a novel that incorporated each of these elements.
Writing alone for six months, a rough draft was completed. As rough as it was, my daughter Sophie, the illustrator of the original Mimi and the Magic Pea some ten years earlier, loved it and agreed to illustrate this more expansive Mimi for me. At that time I decided to self-publish because of counsel I received— a writer informed me that no traditional publishing house would allow a first time author to select their own illustrator. So, determined to have Sophie as my illustrator, I purchased a self-publishing package from Xlibris and began to move the book toward completion.

Over the next three years of writing, editing, rewriting, editing and rewriting... a book finally emerged. Of writing a book: If someone had told me that I would have to read the thing over 350 times, I probably wouldn’t have taken the job. But having done it, I am surprised at how natural and painless that part was— actually a pleasure. The real pleasure, though, comes from painfully cutting out hard worked passages and then realizing that the piece is better without them. From the start, at my core, I knew what I wanted. But I could always tell that I wasn’t there— even as I came closer and closer. I never felt it was finished until it was finished. Thanks be to the editors and frank opinion givers that helped me to consummate my story. I am happy with it— three and a half years later.
I was born in 1950, Eddie’s murder occurred in 1994, my kids gave me the Mimi book in 1997, and I retired in 2007— The process of writing this book was really the process of living a lifetime.
What are your thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing?
Writing the book was a joy, hard but fulfilling. My interaction with the publishing world has yet to be joyful. Only having self-published, my impressions of traditional publishing are just that— impressions. Xlibris is not a company that I would use again, and would strongly urge against anyone employing them. I still think that the freedom of self-publishing can enable an artist to achieve what they want in their finished product— more than in traditional publishing. But an artist tackling this should be very knowledgeable, or well coached, and sure about want they want. Xlibris is unresponsive, generally incompetent, and a pain to deal with. My dream would be to work closely with a competent publisher and, together, create the best possible product. Where does that happen?
What is your marketing strategy?
I plan to work with teachers in my area, and inspire kids to write. Through local media, awareness of Mimi and the Magic Pea is broadening. Reviews are just beginning to happen, and so far all have been very positive. I am hoping that readers will enthusiastically recommend Mimi to others.  I am finding that this marketing process is not instant. A publicist that I approached said that, "really it was" and that "the a book has a brief window of life, with most sales occurring within the first month of release". I turned down her offer to help me, with its $5,000 to $15,000 price tag. Of the couple of hundred Mimi and the Magic Pea books that I personally know are in circulation, most have yet to be read. As I receive feedback from those that have read it, it is encouraging to hear many say, "I loved it!" I may be naive, but it is my hope that this book is will have a life of its own because it is good, and because it’s fun to read. It’s too early in the process to measure success or failure. It’s a learning process for me, that’s for sure.
What are your thoughts about children's writers needing an agent or not needing one?
I have a few good advisors and feel that it is important not to take on everything myself. Until my book has more of a track record (reviews, readers and sales) I doubt that an agent can be of much help to an unknown first time author. In time, an agent may be more appropriate.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
Your best bet is to purchase a copy of Mimi and the Magic Pea. A few articles exist if you search -Leo Franz- on google. Check out mimiandthemagicpea.com. Several reviews can be found for Mimi and the Magic Pea on Amazon.com.
Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children's literature?
I have enjoyed the writing (which I would think is a must) and it is helpful to have a good story that you care about. A playful approach to telling the tale is a priority for me.

Please give us a brief synopsis about your current book and when and where it will be available.
In this beautifully illustrated story, Mimi is trying to correct and retain her known world as she and her friends embroil themselves in a neighborhood war. But as summer comes to a close, Mimi’s adolescent temperament takes her for a roller-coaster ride and keeps her stumbling over her own decisions as layers of intrigue coming to light. Death, betrayal, and the manipulations of an ever-watching witch push Mimi into choices that put her friends, parents, siblings, dog, and self at risk. Will the resiliency of children prevail? The magic of childhood is cast before the darker backdrops of sorcery, greed and revenge as you enter the enchanting world of Mimi and the Magic Pea. 

Others tell me that Mimi and the Magic Pea is a fun read. This was a primary goal, and I am pleased to hear it described as a "grand adventure". Aside from the action, magic, and adventure, a few loftier concepts are batted about: truth; understanding; communication; spirituality; desire; and the sanctity of life.

This Portland mythology is steeped in my childhood experiences as a boy in the alleys of the northeast section of the town. As an adult, I spent my time at the Multnomah Arts Center watching my children thrive there; so it, too, is a featured location for the book. Without giving away the plot, I need to say that the death of Eddie Morgan is connected to the drive-box that whirs in the background of most of this story. Eddie was shot down in 1994, on Portland’s 42nd Avenue, in a still unsolved murder.

A real reward for me in writing this book has been the three and a half years of working closely with my gifted daughter, Sophie. Tessa, my younger daughter who was away for most of this effort, was always present; it was her original story that inspired the work. Each of them influence my depictions of some of the more positive character traits of the protagonists (certainly none of the bad ones).

Mimi and the Magic Pea is available in many book stores and can be ordered online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats are available. Books can be purchased on line at mimiandthemagicpea.com and autographed copies can be ordered through franzlings@q.com.

Mimi and the Magic Pea excerpt from Book II - Peas and Beans
The next morning—
Mimi finds Ziggy asleep, warming her belly. A thin layer of mud barely obscures her birthday-suit, but in the dark she has no embarrassment or concern about her nudity. As the sun poises to rise, those last twinges of her bones shrinking, and the chill from the morning dew, couple to cause her body to tingle intensely. She gazes, with a girl’s eyes, up into the stars on that cloudless pre-morning. Mimi stares until wakefulness falters.

In a wink, the stars part and she is swept up. Shooting through the heavens, some vague directions to "Neverland" rattle her memory. Mimi looks high and low for that second star to the right but can’t find her way. Then, like a falling star, the restored girl plunges back to earth.

Freezing, and ready for the shelter of her own home, Mimi’s tingling tips toward painfulness. So letting the sleeping dog lie in the garden, Mimi moves slowly toward her house. After all of that galloping the day before, the trellis isn’t an easy climb. Exhausted, on the roof, Mimi barely has the strength to open the window that she always leaves unlocked.

Inside, risking detection, she turns the faucets on full, and the steam soon calls her into the comfort of the shower. The streaming water is like a transfusion of life, and Mimi doesn’t care who hears it— but no one hears a thing. Every Boncoeur is still recuperating from the long, difficult day— a day where they were so preoccupied that they hadn’t even thought to look in on their Mimi, the independent, self-sufficient child, that they sometimes take for granted.

When Mimi crawls between the silky sheets of her bed, she slips into her own oblivion, a kind of Neverland.

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